IS This It? | Lexus IS250 F-Sport

BY Azfar Hashim

Lexus surprises the executive sedan world with its aggressive IS250 F-Sport. But can executives warm up to it in a German dominated market?

Photos by Azfar Hashim

In a little bar somewhere in the eastern part of Singapore, a small survey was held over beers and chicken wings (it was happy hour anyway). This discussion group, consisting of executives in the banking and finance sector, insurance industry and not forgetting a sole lawyer come together twice a month to debate about, well, cars. And then women/relationship. Soccer and motorsports at times too. You get the idea.

And this is the targeted buyers in the sights of BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz; handsomely-paid, up and coming young executives upgrading to their first executive sedans; this bunch consists of Volkswagen Golf/Jetta, Lancer EX and FD Honda Civic owners who are always on the lookout for good deals (read: upgrade) in the segment.

Asking them for their ‘next move’, the usual answers will be the 316i/320i, A4/A5 Sportback, C-Class. Mr. Legal Eagle was more interesting, opting for a CC.

But it seems that everyone has forgotten about the sole Japanese candidate. No, no, not the Camry; Lexus’ IS. You can’t blame this bunch for forgetting, really; this model has been generally unchanged - minor facelifts not included — since its introduction into the local market in 2005.

The new IS250 is bound to change Lexus’s image then; particularly in this F-Sport guise. There’s that aggressive face to begin with, that speaks volumes of the brand’s daring design team who is putting aesthetics among the ‘must change’ list. With such a bombastic front grill, sporty front bumper, suave headlamps plus LED DRLs combo, you surely can’t miss the IS250; especially when you see it approaching fast in the rear-view mirror.

This attention-grabbing style is not restricted just to the face though. Its rear is highly detailed with those pair of swooping tail lamps, built-into-the-boot lid spoiler, creased rear bumper and last but not least, twin exhaust tailpipes. The reflectors, however, seems like after thoughts and you can’t help but wonder whether was it even necessary.

Great selection on the set of star-patterned alloys too, Lexus. Not only does it enhance the sporty intent of the car further; you can care less about brake dust too. This is standard for every F-Sport. Questionable though, is the standard fitted, comfort-biased Bridgestone Turanza ER33 rubbers this time around. Remember, the previous IS250 were fitted with performance-biased Bridgestone Potenza RE050s.

Interior wise, the IS250 impresses firstly because of the impeccable build quality that’s hard to fault. Shut lines are well hidden, plastic are of high standard and the driving position is simply useful for drivers of any size; mind you, this is something rare considering my build that… ermmm… errs on the bigger side. In a 3 Series, A4, C-Class and even CC, I needed to do multiple adjustments before finding that optimum position and getting all comfy. You have to love the steering wheel as well: beautifully wrapped in cow, brilliantly sized with large-sized paddle-shifters and controls mimicking a Playstation controller, it really does make you feel in command. To be anal, even both the signal and wiper stalks feel expensive enough to shame the German’s. Oh, a cool touch (no pun intended) is the standard ventilated/heated front seats. Then let’s not forget the multi-function instrument cluster — even a fighter jet doesn’t get it this good…

Everything else is positioned towards the driver; heck, the last time I feel this cocooned was probably when I was in my mum’s womb (ha… ha… ha).

But after spending some days with the IS250, I did found some fault with the architecture. You need to stretch your arms to get to the climate control, and if you sit too low, the bottom part of the central multimedia screen is hidden away from sight. Eh?

That aside, its rear bench is surprisingly comfortable thanks to the well-padded seats. There’s also adequate head and legroom for two average-sized adults, although putting in a third passenger is really pushing it no thanks to that intrusive transmission tunnel; OK to put a child, but placing another adult however may strain relationships…

Powering the IS250 is Lexus’s trusted 6-cylinder 2.5-litre powerplant, mated to the reliable 6-speed automatic transmission; as the saying goes, ‘if it ain’t broke, why fix it?’ Which should explain why we foresee this IS250 being a reliable and durable workhorse for the daily grind in the long run. Lexus did assure that improvements and enhancements (particularly in terms of noise and vibration) have been made to maintain the model’s relevance to today’s rather demanding market.

It may not be the fastest off the line (compared to the 328i, A4 2.0T or C250), but the IS250 remains willing and eager particularly past 3,500 rpm. The gears shifts smoothly as well, something for the Germans to ponder on; and if that’s not enough, you have the paddle shifters to utilize and swap cogs manually. Better still, you get the accompaniment of a sonorous symphony as the V6 heart makes itself heard. Something to appreciate when the rest of the competition’s force-fed four-potter sounds rather b-o-r-i-n-g.

Despite the rear-wheel drive configuration (and the fact it’s running on comfort-biased rubbers), it remains secured and tight even when taking a set of sweeping bends fast and enthusiastically; and this while driving around in ‘Normal’ mode. Lexus allows you to drive the IS250 in four different modes by the way: Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport+, which should all be self-explanatory. This being the F-Sport, you get for yourself a set of sport-tuned suspension set-up, complimenting the steering system perfectly when driven in Sport and Sport+ mode. If you’re feeling devilish, you can get the tail to slide out as you attack a wide, right-hander in Sport+; you see, it allows some antics before the nanny actually kicks in to sort things out. Waitaminute… Gives you this funny feeling that BMW and Lexus share the same traction control software supplier, as in this aspect, they feel… somewhat… similar.

So at the end of it all, what can the IS250 F-Sport offer to this German dominated segment? It doesn’t really help that executives are already pampered with an obvious list, who all arrived ahead of the Lexus.

Well in its defense, the IS250 F-Sport has a rather stylish, outstanding exterior; it surely looks outstanding (excuse the repetitive use of word) in the office carpark. To complete the package, a driving experience that impresses with its ability to be a sedate cruiser or corner muncher. That creamy roar of the powerplant when you stretch it is just something the Germans can’t quite offer. Oh, and then let’s not forget the high-level build quality. Good enough for you, Sir(s)?